Coronary CTA Patient Education

Pre-Procedure Patient Information

What is a coronary CTA test?

A coronary computed tomography angiogram (CTA) is a heart-imaging test that helps your doctor determine whether fatty deposits or calcium deposits have built up in your coronary arteries, the arteries that supply blood flow to the heart. Using only an intravenous injection of contrast dye, the test is non-invasive and does not require placing a catheter into an artery or the heart.

Why am I having this test?

Coronary CTA is used to evaluate coronary artery disease and to evaluate a patient’s risk of heart attack. Since coronary CTA is able to detect small amounts of plaque that are missed on other exams, it can detect disease very early, before a patient has symptoms.

A coronary CTA can be used for:

  • Detection of sub-clinical heart disease as the basis for primary prevention
  • Pre-surgical assessment of coronary arteries
  • Evaluation of chest pain in patients with uncommon symptoms or unclear stress test results
  • Evaluation of coronary artery abnormalities
  • Checking the patency of previously placed bypass grafts

However, coronary CTA does have its limitations. For example, it is limited in its ability to image people with irregular heart rhythms. Also, very obese patients or those with heavily calcified arteries may not benefit from this exam.

How does this test work?

Using an intravenous (IV) line, iodine-containing contrast dye is injected into your vein. The CT scanner, which is monitoring your pulse (heart) rate, measures when the contrast reaches the heart vessels. When the contrast is in the heart vessels, the CT scanner takes hundreds of images of your heart and then puts those images back together to form a picture of your heart.

Unlike a normal snapshot, this picture can be broken down to show just the arteries, the muscles, or the veins. This reconstruction allows the cardiologist to see if you have a blocked artery that could cause you to have a heart attack.

What conditions should I make sure my doctor is aware of?

Before your exam, you should notify the radiologist or nurse if you:

  • Have had a previous reaction to iodine/contrast
  • Have any drug/food allergies
  • Are taking any medications
  • Have asthma or emphysema
  • Whether you are pregnant or may be pregnant

What are the risks of the coronary CTA test?

A coronary CTA is a very safe procedure, however risks include having an allergic reaction to the contrast dye used during the procedure and the exposure to x-ray radiation, which is similar to that experienced during a nuclear medicine stress test.

About the Procedure

Before the test:

  • Take any oral medications ordered by your doctor as instructed
  • Avoid nicotine for 8 hours prior to test
  • Avoid any caffeinated drinks for 24 hours prior to your test, including coffee, tea, energy drinks, or caffeinated sodas
  • Avoid energy or diet pills for 24 hours prior to test
  • Do not use Viagra, Cialis, or any similar medications for 24 hours prior to test. They are not compatible with the medications you will receive during the test.
  • Do not eat for 2 hours prior to the test

The day of the test:

Please arrive and register at admissions in the lobby of the hospital at your scheduled time.

You will be escorted to the prep area, where you will be connected to a blood pressure machine that will take your blood pressure and your heart rate. You will also have electrocardiogram (ECG) leads placed on your chest to allow us to monitor your heart rate during the test.

A nurse will insert an IV into your right arm. During the test, this IV will be used to give you the contrast dye, which is used to enhance the visibility of certain tissues.

You will be escorted to the CT scanner and asked to lie on a table, which will move you in and out of the scanner as your test is performed. In preparation for the test, the nurse or CT tech will instruct you on breathing techniques for the test. For example, you will have to hold your breath for about 15 seconds.

If your heart rate is above 65 beats per minute, you will be given a beta-blocker called metoprolol to slow the rate. This medication will be given through your IV. A slower heart rate is required to obtain clearer pictures with the CT scanner.

You may be given a medication called nitroglycerin (0.4 mg) that will be placed under your tongue. This medicine dilates the vessels around your heart to allow better visualization of those vessels.

During the test:

During the injection of the contrast dye, you may feel a warm, flushed sensation. This feeling is normal for any contrast injection.

After the test:

The medication given to slow your heart rate, metoprolol, has been known to cause some people to feel dizzy if they stand suddenly. The dizziness is slight and happens rarely.

The medication given to dilate your heart vessels, nitroglycerin, has been known to cause headache or the feeling that the heart is “racing.” These symptoms are normal and should not be cause for concern. If you desire, you can take acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Once the test is completed, you will be discharged home.

After the coronary CTA, you should drink plenty water over the next 24 hours to help flush the contrast out of your system.

Who interprets the results and how do I get them?

The cardiologist will work with the radiologist to interpret your study results. Because the images require time to process, the results are not available immediately. Final results will be sent to the physician who ordered your test within a few days. The results will also be sent to your My Chart account.

Contact Information

Please contact your ordering provider with questions or concerns.

In case of emergency including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

Report to the nearest Emergency Room or call 911.